BOYS' voice are breaking
earlier, with implications for choirs, new research suggests.
A historical study of the
timing of puberty and voice-change in boys was conducted by
Professor Martin Ashley, head of research at Edge Hill University's
Faculty of Education, in collaboration with Dr Ann-Christine Mecke
of the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Felix Mendelssohn
Bartholdy, in Germany. They analysed 1000 boys' voices.
The study concluded that,
for the past 2000 years, boys' voices have tended to break at the
age of 14, but that between 1960 and 2012, the percentage of
14-year-olds who were completing puberty had risen from 36 per cent
to 62 per cent. Professor Ashley believes that, in Year 8 (the
second year of secondary school, during which pupils reach the age
of 13), "you might have to retire anything between one third and
two-thirds of choristers."
He concludes: "It will
prudent to plan for a lower age demographic. Boys need to be
recruited at younger ages, and more attention needs to be given to
high-quality kindergarten work and the creation of junior training
choirs." Cathedrals should plan to have choirboys aged eight to 12
rather than nine to 13, he suggests. "If you have some 13-year-olds
still singing, that is wonderful, but be prepared for more and more
not to be."
Professor Ashley said that
boys recruited while at primary school were "very loyal. . . They
can learn to love singing in a church choir. It is their life."
He plans to conduct further research with a larger sample of
14-year-old boys. He has collaborated with Professor David Howard
from the University of York to produce a smartphone app that will
instantly assess the voices of thousands of boys.